Monday, January 14, 2008


Cooking is a mix of prayer and alchemy.

Last week I took my first independent test-drive of my new pressure cooker. (What a great Christmas gift!) I had read and re-read the safety instructions, knew the four (four!) different safety mechanisms, and thus avoided exploding my kitchen.

I made dahl, a delicious lentil dish (perhaps a stew?) that I associate with utter gustatory delight. It doesn't look like much (no pictures, sorry), but it has many different blended tastes: deliciousness, scrumption, flavorfulness, tastifullity, yum, etc. And it's slightly spicy. I actually have no idea what the tastes are, or what half the spices are. Two (two!) separate forays were required to collect the many spices specified in the recipe.

One of these ingredients was a chili, dry or fresh. I found some fresh ones. The recipe specified "one chili" as the required amount, but I put in four. Now, this might seem like a recipe for disaster, the kind of flaming disaster that results in sucking on ice and eating bland oatmeal for a week while one's tastebuds grow back. I put in four anyway.

(1) Chilis naturally vary in size, and mine were rather small.
(2) I recalled that, at home, we often added a very large chili, with total chili-mass approximately four of my little chilis.
(3) I like spicy food. Even to the point of crying. So I figured I could handle it.

Man, was I wrong.

Nostrils all a-tinglin' with the delicious olfactory anticipation of the meal to come, I served myself a bowl of my dahl on rice. (And counted my fingers to make sure that none of the pressure cooker's many newfangled safety systems had snatched them.) And the first bite was delicious. Lila-made dahl! How delightful. A few bites later, as my lips went numb and my tongue ceased to register texture, I allowed that I had -- perhaps -- overdone the chilis. A bit.

To my shame, I was unable to finish my single serving of dahl, reasoning that I should probably avoid a trip to the emergency room during my first week back. If this episode were an argument with a person, I'd now have to eat my words. But since it's a cooking venture, I just have to eat... my creation. A little bit at a time. Every day. For the past week.

Where did I go wrong?
(1) My chilis were small, but also bright red. Fire-engine red. This was nature's warning sign, saying, "use these as decoration, but for goodness' sake don't smell them, cut them open or ingest them!"
(2) In a follow-up call with my mother, I discovered that at home we make a double batch of dahl. So my memory-based estimate was twice as hot as usual.
(3) These chilis bypassed the crying stage of pain and went straight to the numbing stage. I bet that in nature, animals that eat them just fall over in a stupor and are instantly assailed by predators who camp near the sites of toxically spicy plants for exactly that purpose.

This post's theme song: "World on Fire" by Sarah McLachlan.

1 comment:

masha51 said...

Gustatory mutations.
This summer, regular coffee stopped "doing it" for me. I now require coffees labeled bold, extra bold, komodo dragon.
Your penultimate brother reported that he was repeatedly disappointed dining; he could not find food that was hot enough anymore.
I suggest you feed him some of your four-pepper dal. Not to teach him a lesson, but out of sincere sisterly sympathy, menace, and affection.
And bring home a couple of those chilis as a house gift the next time you visit.
There must be something in the water.